Herbal Fact Sheets: Fennel

Brief History

Fennel is a plant which has been used in herbal medicine for many years. In fact, it was probably one of the first plants to be cultured for both its culinary and medical uses. The Roman civilization would use it for general good health and the ladies would use it to prevent weight gain. The name for the plant in Greek is 'Marathon' which means 'grow thin'. Pliny reported that the herb was good for the eyesight, and the Romans actually thought that it was used by serpents to improve their vision.

The Anglo-Saxons held the plant in high regard and viewed it as sacred. In 812 AD Charlemagne stated that anyone who had a garden should grow the herb because of its ability to heal. The seeds were used by church goers to stop their stomachs rumbling during the services.

Physical Description

Fennel is a gray-green perennial herb with branched stems which have vertical grooves. The stem grows with three or four dark green pinnate leaves which have feathery lobes. The plant will flower from July until September with yellow blossoms. These appear in simple pillars, of which there could be thirty or more, within a compound umbel. The fruit is a dry seed which is grooved and up to about 10mm in length and 5mm in width.

Medicinal Uses

Appetite stimulant – Although Roman ladies would use Fennel to prevent obesity, it is actually an appetite stimulant and is often used for patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. It is also useful to stimulate the return of appetite following illness.

Digestive system – Fennel is a carminative and will help to reduce flatulence and trapped wind. It will reduce bloating of the stomach and is one of the ingredients of gripe water, which is used to reduce colic in infants. It will sooth the digestion and give relief from heartburn.

Urinary system – The herb is a diuretic and will also help in the treatment of urinary calculi.

Eye problems – Fennel is an effective treatment for both conjunctivitis and blepharitis when used as an infusion.

Side Effects

There are very few side effects associated with the Fennel foliage and seeds. However, some patients have reported photo-dermatitis following its use. This is a form of dermatitis which is aggravated by the rays of the sun following the use of the herb.

Pregnant women should avoid using large quantities of Fennel as it is thought to mimic estrogen.